INTERVIEW-OLYMPICS-Olympic soccer might not sell out says minister
LONDON, July 22 |
LONDON, July 22 (Reuters) - Britain's Olympics minister said he could not guarantee all the tournament's soccer stadiums would be full in 2012 after a sluggish start to sales compared with all the other events which sold out more than a year ahead of next summer's Games.
Soccer is traditionally one of the biggest Olympic revenue spinners, with sell-out crowds having been treated in the past to glimpses of the world's leading young players including Argentina's World Player of the Year Lionel Messi in Beijing in 2008.
About 500,000 tickets have been so sold so far, with matches at Wembley Stadium in London, where the final will be played, thought to have been outselling others elsewhere in the country.
However, around 1.5 million soccer tickets remain unsold.
While England, football's birthplace, regularly attracts huge crowds for Premier League matches, fans have seemingly struggled to get excited about either the 16-team men's tournament, which is an Under-23 competition with three over-age players allowed, or the 12-team women's tournament which has no age limit.
One reason for that is because British teams rather than separate ones representing England, Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales, will take part in the Games, and a debate about who will play in that team and who will manage it remains unresolved.
The issue mainly concerns the men's team and has left London's organisers facing the difficult task of trying to sell about two million soccer tickets, nearly a third of all those on offer in Britain and the European Union, in an already saturated market.
Hugh Robertson, when asked in an interview with Reuters whether all the soccer tickets would be sold, replied: "I really don't know.
"I always thought of all the Olympic tickets they were going to be the most difficult ones to sell because the football market is quite saturated in this country," he said.
"I just always thought that was going to be very difficult, so I'm not surprised by the fact they've proved the most difficult to shift."
Soccer tickets will go on sale for a third time later this year, with prices ranging between 20 pounds ($32.601)and 185 pounds.
As well as Wembley, soccer will also be staged at Old Trafford, Hampden Park in Glasgow, Cardiff's Millennium Stadium, St James' Park in Newcastle and the City of Coventry Stadium.
The tournament will kick-off two days ahead of the July 27 opening ceremony because of the heavy schedule.
Britain won the first two official soccer competitions in 1908 and 1912, but have not reached the Olympic finals since 1960. They last entered a team for the 1972 Munich Olympics but were eliminated in the qualifiers.
No British team has taken part since because the home nations have not wanted to jeopardise their individual memberships of FIFA.
There is a widespread belief, certainly among the Scots, Welsh and Irish, that if they allow their players to take part in a British team, political pressure from other FIFA members could mount for them only to play as part of a British team in future.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter has repeatedly said this will not be the case, but still, attempts to bring together players from the home nations for 2012 have been strongly resisted and means it is likely that only English players will take part.
Former England captain David Beckham has been mooted as one of the three permitted over-age players, and his presence would certainly help boost any sluggish sales.
Mayor of London Boris Johnson has suggested offering any unsold tickets to local school children to avoid the embarrassment of empty seats.
But Robertson suggested soccer fans may be leaving their purchases to nearer the event.
"It wouldn't surprise me if there didn't continue to be some football tickets available until quite close to the event," he said.
"The extraordinary thing about tickets really is not the football tickets that have not sold but the huge numbers of everything else that has.
"And to be in a position I don't think any other Olympic city has found itself in a position 13 months out from the Games when it has sold out of tickets.
"Personally, I was surprised. I knew there would be high demand for tickets, I was surprised by just how high the demand was." ($1 = 0.613 British Pounds) (Editing by Mike Collett/Mitch Phillips)
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